As Syrians pour into Jordan, work is underway not only to provide essential safe water and sanitation, but to make sure the water lasts. Jordan is the fourth most water scarce country in the world and the influx of people is putting a strain on an already limited water supply. Report by Wendy Bruere, RAMTHA, Jordan, 5 August 2012
“It’s easy to take water for granted, but here in Jordan one of the biggest challenges is supplying safe water to the thousands of refugees in transit sites, without placing excessive pressure on host communities,” said UNICEF Representative Dominique Hyde. The average Jordanian’s annual share of water is only 145 cubic meters, compared to the world average of close to 7,000 cubic meters.
Many Syrians who make it to Jordan are highly distressed by what they have been through. They are also accustomed to living in a country with a relatively plentiful water supply, said Eman Darabseh, a site manager with UNICEF partner ACTED, which provides safe water and sanitation to Syrian refugees in transit centres in Ramtha, northern Jordan.
At present, more than 2,000 people are currently staying in these facilities, but more than 11,000 have passed through the sites since March, and many more are anticipated to arrive if the situation in Syria does not improve. The new Za’atari tented site in northern Jordan is already home to more than 3,000 people, with the site able to be expanded to cater for up to 130,000 people. “For children and families living in these circumstances, water conservation can take a back seat,” Eman said.
Learning to save
To address this, part of ACTED’s work involves holding water conservation sessions in the transit centres. In one exercise, Eman gives participants a single bottle of water to divide up according to the different things they need water for, such as drinking, bathing and laundry. Then, after that is done, she gives them half a bottle of water – to represent the idea that in Jordan they must use half the amount they did in Syria – to divide between all the same needs.
“After the sessions people understand there is not enough water in Jordan,” Eman said. “The women think of ways they can save water, like washing clothes less often and washing all their dishes at the same time.”
“Now that we know there is little water in Jordan, we try to save it,” said Sama, a participant who has been staying in transit centres since she arrived in Jordan four months ago. “We need these sessions so people don’t waste the water.”
“When I saw the bottle go from full to half-full, I thought about how I could reduce the water I use,” said Dina, a mother of four who has been in transit centres for three months.
Other activities are aimed at children. Eman has written songs and a play about saving water to be performed by youngsters in the transit centres.
Blessing in disguise
Eman, who herself is from Ramtha, noted that the water supply was dwindling for city residents and that it was easy for locals to feel jealous about the efforts made to assist the new arrivals.
But the international attention the influx of Syrians has drawn to the north of Jordan also brings good news for Jordanians.
“Work is also underway to support people living in the border towns of Ramtha and Mafraq,” Hyde said. “UNICEF is working with the water authorities to improve the public water supply in these areas.”
UNICEF, with partner Mercy Corps, has already begun repairing several public wells in Ramtha and Mafraq. The process involves checking the water quality, then doing necessary repairs on pumps, pipes, and other infrastructure. UNICEF aims to increase the amount of safe water available to each person in these towns by 15 per cent.
“This work takes time, but the benefits for Jordanians will last for years,” Hyde said.